Behind every great fighter is a great team. As such athletes give endless praise and accolades to their corner and their trainers, it takes a team of experts and specialists to develop the multiple facets that mold and comprise a truly well-rounded champion.
As Eddie Alvarez’s title defense versus Pat Curran steadily approaches on April 2, in Uncasville, CT, Eddie’s preparation for such a fight is particularly unique, as he has two formidable head coaches in his corner. Though each coach possesses remarkable knowledge and comprehension of MMA, it’s the interpolation of the two, that creates a mighty, powerful entity.
Steve Haigh and Ricky Lee of the Philadelphia Fight Factory began in the basement of Steve’s grandmother’s house in 1999. Since the school’s inception and growth, these two men have been a significant part in the “Silent Assassin’s” career. Not only will Steve and Ricky be cornering Eddie at his next matchup, they also have been extremely integral in his wins over opponents such as Roger Huerta, Josh Neer, Tatsuya Kawajiri and Joachim Hansen.
Currently, the Fight Factory has three world champions training and instructing at their school. Outside of Eddie, they include Bellator’s Bantamweight title holder and Grappling World Champion, Zach “Fun Size” Makovsky, plus DaMMAge’s 125 pound Women's Champ, Tara Larosa.
With Lee’s proficiency in boxing and Muay Thai, Haigh, the school’s owner, is masterful with the ground and submission game. As many MMA athletes have one main trainer, Steve and Ricky feel that their pairing is unequivocal, as their merged experience work quite efficiently as a single alliance. “We bump heads a lot, but that’s what makes us great,” according to Lee. “Steve has one opinion, I have my opinion, and we always find the ideal and optimal solution.”
Though many camps work on game plans prior to fights, the Philadelphia combination takes a different approach in preparing their fighters:
“We don’t really put game plans together. We’d rather have our fighters dictate the pace and do what comes naturally,” states Steve. “If you set up a game plan and it doesn’t pan out, fighters start to panic. We’d rather have fighters be well rounded and well prepared for all aspects, wherever the fight goes.”
In adding to the strength of their coaching unity, Ricky speaks very highly of their combined efforts:
“Our experience allows us to read other fighters very well. But we don’t train our fighters to prepare for an opponents’ weaknesses. If that’s all you train for, and a kickboxer surprisingly starts stuffing your takedowns or a wrestler connects with unexpected leg kicks, your game plan is no longer effective. For example, I don’t think (George) Sotiropoulos expected (Denis) Siver to handle his takedown attempts as easily as he did.”
As Alvarez is highly ranked amongst all lightweights in the world, some critics feel that Eddie should consider a switch to a more renown school, such as Greg Jackson’s or AKA. Though both Ricky and Steve speak very highly of such schools, Haigh feels the proof of their method speaks for itself:
“There’s no secrets anymore. The workout, the training regimens, the conditioning. We feel we have the full package at Fight Factory, and with all our great instructors, it reflects on not only our professional fighters, but on the students also.”
But to further Fight Factory’s case of professional quality and world class tutelage, Steve notes that prior to a fight, the UFC Lightweight Champion, Frankie Edgar, also trains at their MMA gym:
“Frankie is a good friend of our school. When he has fights, he comes down and trains with Eddie and some of our other fighters. It makes a great relationship as Eddie periodically trains at (Ricardo) Almeida’s school also.”
While being a top tier fighter, this makes Eddie a marked man, as Strikeforce’s 155 pound champion, Gilbert Melendez, has openly stated his desire to fight the Philadelphia born Alvarez. Though a match of these two champions would be ideal for MMA fight fans, the potentiality is improbable. As both coaches have high respect for the SF champ, they truly feel that their winning prospect is the better fighter, and is much stronger and faster than Melendez.
Lastly, as Eddie prepares for the first title defense of his Bellator belt, his recent win over Roger Huerta still impressively lingers, as the champ’s power and explosiveness dominated the former UFC fighter:
“He’s a great athlete (Huerta), but Eddie’s a great fighter,” explains Ricky. "With Roger, I knew Eddie would break him eventually, but I didn’t think he’d beat him up the way he did in the first round. Roger was solid, but we saw the holes in his game.”
Which is why Alvarez personally thanked Ricky at the post-fight press conference on developing his pronounced uppercut, which connected at will.
Though the recipe for a fighter’s success constantly varies, changes and grows, it’s obvious that both Steve and Ricky have the ingredients to prepare for any circumstance, situation and opponent. With a proven track record of champions in such a short amount of time, it’s obviously certain that the Philadelphia Fight Factory duo share the love of teaching, evolving and winning.